Still Kicking, DoubleVerify Says The Market For Transparency Is Largely Untapped

gattinella-doubleverifyBefore taking the reins at DoubleVerify six months ago, Wayne Gattinella spent ten years at the helm of WebMD.

When he signed up for that job, the consumer health publisher was three years old and had collapsed to some extent, like most web content providers in that era. Since then it has largely reversed course. Revenues for 2012 were $470 million, nearly triple its 2005 results (though down somewhat from 2011).

"Little by little, we were able to demonstrate the importance of online promotion and sponsorship advertising," he said. "We showed that the Internet could be a core ad platform for large brand marketers at a time when they had become very jaundiced and cynical."

Having made the leap to ad tech, Gattinella would now like to do for DoubleVerify what he pulled off at WebMD. But the category his new employer helped create – ad verification – is beginning to show its age, upstaged by the viewability craze of the past year. He said overcoming that hurdle means walking the viewability talk and pitching the company as an ad effectiveness vendor.

Gattinella spoke with AdExchanger recently.

AdExchanger: The verification space has seen changes.  Your competitor AdSafe rebranded and repositioned as Integral Ad Science, moving away from verification towards predictive analytics.  Do you see a continuing opportunity in verification?

WAYNE GATTINELLA: This company created the verification category when it launched four years ago.  It has since become the most trusted and reliable provider of data for identified brand safe environments.  We announced Media Ratings Council accreditation recently. It’s an almost two-year process where the organization does an exhaustive and thorough review of not just your products but how you operate.  We’re only one of two companies now that has full accreditation for both verification and viewability. Accreditation validates the integrity and reliability of DoubleVerify technology and its results.  Our customers validate it every day as well.

Verification is the core of what we provide, but it’s only one aspect of the company’s future.  Our mission has always been to provide greater transparency into the online media dollar. We drive stronger accountability through the ecosystem, so that every provider of distribution or data is accountable to the advertiser.  DoubleVerify is fully invested in those services and the analytics that will evolve as the measurements of performance evolve as well.

What do you think is the size of the verification opportunity right now, dollar-wise? 

I’m not sure I know the dollars. I can give you data that I do know. Roughly 10% of online display ads carry some form of verification.  DoubleVerify represents well over half of those campaigns.  However, roughly 90% of online display campaigns are running naked without any form of third-party validation or verification.

Mobile advertising is still wide open without really any third-party validations, and online videos are still a big opportunity.  Social marketing is currently operating in a fairly closed environment.  It may be more difficult in the future to break through that, given that it’s primarily controlled by one site.  That’s an enormous opportunity as well.  We’re still in a very nascent stage of trying to define verification, let alone trying to define how deeply it’s being deployed right now.

How do you define verification?

Providing deep transparency into how each of your media dollars are being placed.  Its fundamental definition is brand safety, but I think what we’re doing with verification is going well beyond brand safety alone.  Unfortunately, bad actors in the market will continually attempt to disguise themselves.  Our fraud detection lab and some of its new technologies can cut through multiple layers of iframes to detect impression-based fraud, click fraud, copyright infringement and piracy.

Could you talk more about that forensics unit and how it works?

DoubleVerify’s core engineering had been staffed in Israel, where the company was founded initially with technology.  Over the years, engineering and core tech team - including our fraud protection lab - remained in Tel Aviv. During the past 100 days, we have been relocating that group to our corporate headquarters in the US.  I wanted the entire organization physically integrated.

Our process is to build scalable technologies that create transparency across every aspect of the media placements. Bad actors are able to move quickly. They continuously run fraudulent impressions that were never intended and don’t even have the ability to be clicked on. Unless you’re building an underlying technology that can continuously scour and scale, the information you have today will become irrelevant a few days from now. It’s a continuous, technology-driven process.

Viewability is obviously becoming one of the most important areas for future Internet advertising.  We delivered our first viewability products roughly a year ago; they are now MRC accredited. Viewability will become the standard unit of measurement for any web-based company or analytics.  Today, for example, we’re integrated with Dynamic Logic, so that their pre- and post-optimization surveys are done on viewable impressions.

While viewability is kind of a static measure, it can be used by other providers to make that ultimate measure much more impactful.  That’s really the strategy for the future: to provide direct services and also to integrate with any other service so that their measurement becomes more actionable and more accurate.

In the RBT age, will you be guiding campaigns before the impression is bought versus simply reporting on them afterwards?

The DoubleVerify strategy is to provide information at a planning stage, even before you begin to invest in a particular distribution platform. The data is available in real-time before the transaction and during the campaign, so that optimization can occur in a near real-time setting.  Certainly DoubleVerify provides data post-campaign. Viewability is one of those important data elements.

Undertone is now using DoubleVerify viewability data to validate the viewability metrics across their network before they place an ad.  They’ve now put a viewability guarantee on the market, guaranteeing their advertisers a minimum viewability rate inside of their network using DoubleVerify data, which gives the advertiser confidence.

Facebook primarily controls its own platform, including the tags and the ad serving technologies. All ad impressions on Facebook are arguably viewable and safe.  How can you crack the social market?

The garden walls will be taken down over time.  It will only help Facebook and the other large social networks. Transparency in all aspects of commercial advertising should be in the hands of the buy side, not the sell side.  I believe that with social media, the buy side will demand a more open environment in time.

Yet the sell side actually controls a lot of buy-side ad serving technology.  We can see that with Facebook buying Atlas, and Google operating DoubleClick. Do you think advertisers have an appropriate level of concern about sell-side companies controlling ad tech?

The concern is just one of transparency.  The same company that owns the technology and the media distribution also controls the measures of quality, transparency and delivery.  I’m not suggesting that they’re doing things wrong. But my experience is that corners are typically cut in the name of revenue. Advertisers need third-party, certified measures outside of that proprietary distribution and technology network.  I’m not suggesting that the business can’t operate the way it does today. It will grow as it does today, but television is still the dominant media, despite all the inefficiencies that we know of. One of the key drivers to moving more of those dollars online would be greater third-party transparency into how the dollars are being managed.

What’s the headcount today?

More than 100.

Is revenue growing?

Yes, absolutely revenue is growing.  We’re a private company and we don’t disclose financials.

But we’re very close to profitability at the moment.

What’s the funding picture?  Would you consider more investments?

We don’t need any further outside investment at this time.  The last round was Fall 2011 [$33 million].

Any change in the profile of your target customer since we last checked in with you?  Are we talking Fortune 500?  Are you looking at smaller enterprises now?

We work across multiple layers of the ecosystems, so our customers are Fortune 500 brands and corporations. Needless to say, we’ll continuously target them as the underpenetrated part of the market.  Brand safety is obviously most important to companies that have a particular brand image and strategy in mind.  That’s our only key target, but we also directly contract with distribution networks, because we’re able to be the third-party stamp of objectivity and approval on the quality of what they deliver.

The exchanges and the trading desks are important emerging customers for us in a similar way, obviously in the pre-buy and even post-buy market.

Let me ask you about Google getting into ad verification without buying someone. They built their own product.  Do you think the ad verification companies can remain strong independent players?

It’s hard to paint the future of a particular corporate outcome.  There’s a natural tendency for the largest companies to commoditize what the smaller competitors offer.  The critical mission is to continue innovating and demonstrating that last year’s definition of verification is only last year’s.

From my experiences, if your strategy is to be bought, you probably won’t be.  If your strategy is to make a lot of money, you probably won’t.  If your strategy is to continuously invest in your business to build the strongest value proposition in the market - and you do that - then good things will naturally happen. But not without first delivering that value.

 

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